And so it begins.
After an odyssey of Homeric proportions through the UK legal system, the coalition’s Godzilla style rampage though England’s green and pleasant land continues with a new enemy: the badger. This cull is a jackhammer blow to biodiversity and the environment, but that’s not to say the issue of bovine TB on our rural communities is one that we can treat with inaction.
The cost of tuberculosis infection in cattle isn’t just monetary, whole communities have been affected by the disease. Livelihoods have vanished in moments. And in this most desperate of desperate situations, distress has overcome evidence and this attack on the Animals of Farthing Wood is a triumph of hopelessness over hope.
This cull exemplifies the politics of division: it drives a wedge between farmers and environmentalists, when in fact they should be the same thing. The government have sought out the scientific advice, they have listened to it and they have filed it in the Oliver Letwin filing cabinet (aka the bin.) And to paraphrase one of Nick Clegg’s more terrible conference jokes: as blue and yellow make life pretty tough for black and white, it won’t be the government that will be paying, it’ll be farmers and the countryside they rely on. Defra’s very own impact assessment spells it out: “For farmers in cull areas, monetised costs exceed expected monetised benefits.”.
The support shown during the recent dairy crisis is proof that when the industry is at its weakest, the public’s support is at its strongest.
But with consumers readily talking of boycotting milk from farms participating in the badger cull, at a time when the industry needs to get closer to the public than ever before, these badger shoots run the risk of pushing them away.
This cull will cost farmers much more than they will gain, it will put pressure on police forces already at breaking point and isolate rural communities further and further. It’s hard to disagree with the recent randomised badger culling trial’s conclusion “that badger culling is unlikely to contribute effectively to the control of cattle TB in Britain.”.
One thing is clear: this cull is driven by fear, driven by hopelessness and driven by the overwhelming thought that things can’t get any worse than they are. But fear isn’t the only option. Instead, we need to tell the agricultural industry not what we think the industry wants to hear, but what the industry needs to hear.
We must stop the inane paradox of killing animals in the hope that we can stop killing animals, and look towards a solution that already exists: cattle vaccination. The only obstacle to this solution is that it’s currently blocked by European Union legislation but with the opportunity created by the drafting of the new European Animal Health Law, greater co-operation with European legislators will provide the key to unchain rural communities from bovine TB.
With the decision now green-lit by the courts, it may be thought that all Labour can do is stand aside. Instead we must stand up against a cull in which science is spurned in favour of slaughter and in which the government seem to have based their respect for the countryside on Andrew Mitchell’s respect for police officers.
When it comes to finding a cure for our rural communities, the work will go on, the cause will endure and the hope will still live, but this cull is in the interests of no one, it is emblematic of farming against the environment when we should be farming for the environment. Instead of letting the British countryside be condemned, Labour needs to help save it.